Blessed Are the Meek

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It is not uncommon for commentators and Bible teachers to interpret the “blesseds” in the Beatitudes as meaning “to be happy.” The Greek work translated as “blessed” is makarios, and while “happy” is one of the ways it can be interpreted, in the broader context of the Beatitudes, happy seems to miss the mark. For one thing, being happy is a subjective emotional state, and surely in verse 11 being reviled and persecuted do not jibe with such a state. Furthermore, interpreting makarios as happy leads to the mistake of seeing the Beatitudes as a series of exhortations on how to be happy, which does not seem to be what Jesus is doing here. On the contrary, the Beatitudes are a series of prophetic declarations of what God bestows on those whom He receives into His kingdom.

The reason these characteristics and virtues are bestowed or given is because they are not naturally possessed by the recipients, nor are their recipients in themselves able to produce these qualities. To take it one step further, the character traits set forth in the Beatitudes are not what we in our fallen state aspire to. This certainly is the case with Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The idea of gaining the world, whether as individuals or as a nation, is as old as human history, and the spirit of the builders of the tower of Babel reverberates through all such efforts: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). This seems to be the goal of fallen humanity, both individually and collectively: to make a name for ourselves through accumulation, accomplishment, or through expanding our borders. And when these things are the defining pursuits of a person or a people, the defining character of that person or people will lean in the direction of avarice and arrogance.

So in looking at Matthew 5:5, we note that this verse is connected to texts such as Psalm 37, where the ruthless ambition of evildoers to gain the things of the world is contrasted against the righteous who commit their way to the Lord and trust in Him (Ps. 37:5). In verses 9–10, we are told that the evildoers will be cut off. Moreover, the earth will not be earned but will rather be inherited (vv. 9, 11, 22, and 34). And here’s the kicker: the ones who will gain the earth by inheritance are the meek.

Contrary to what many may think, meekness is not weakness. Both in Psalm 37 and in the Beatitudes, meekness is humility and submission to God. Again, with Psalm 37 in view, the wicked seek gain at all cost. In verse 14, they “draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy,” and while they gain things that will bring temporary pleasure, only the meek, those who delight in the Lord (v. 4), will inherit the earth.

But this raises the question of how one becomes meek. I indicated earlier that the Beatitudes are a series of declarations of what God bestows on those whom He receives into His kingdom. So, in light of Matthew 5:5, God gives the earth as an inheritance. But He also gives meekness. I say this based on two things. On the one hand, meekness is a virtue possessed by Christ in His humanity (Matt. 11:29), which means that it is part of His active righteousness that is credited to us for our justification.

But on the other hand, meekness is a fruit of the Spirit that the Spirit causes us to manifest in our sanctification, as Galatians 5:23 tells us. Some translations begin that verse with “gentleness,” whereas the King James Version renders it “meekness.” But on the whole, the description of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23 describes meekness.

The point is that meekness is not native to our fallen state. So, in our justification, the meekness of Christ is credited to us by faith alone, and in our sanctification, the Holy Spirit is conforming us into the image of Christ, which includes His meekness. So the blessing of this beatitude is that those who look to Christ in faith will inherit the earth be-cause they have been credited with His meekness and have been given the gift of the Spirit, who connects us to Christ and conforms us to His likeness.

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